Posted by: itsme | December 10, 2010

Backpacking through India on a Shoestring Budget

It is surprising how cheaply one can travel across the country. By keeping things at a basic level of comfort and avoiding luxuries, India can be covered on a shoestring budget.

My year long expedition has taken me across 30 out of 35 States and Union Territories of India. I have been on the road for 314 days with short breaks in between. The grand total of my expenses has come to just Rs. 1,22,811. This comes to out just Rs. 391 per day.

Here are some interesting graphs on my expenses.

Total Expenses by State

Total Expenses by State

The five places not visited are Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar. I have covered Karnataka on many weekend trips for which no data was recorded. Hence, entry for Karnataka is missing. I estimate that an additional Rs. 15,000 was spent on travelling within Karnataka. This is not captured in the graphs.

Exact expenses for some places were lost (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Maharashtra) but I have been able to estimate them using my bank withdrawals. This amount was then divided into categories using the data available for other states.

Average Daily Expenses by State

Average Daily Expenses by State

It can be seen that Jammu & Kashmir ranks quite high in the charts. In general, transport costs are high in hilly areas. On the flipside, Tamil Nadu is one of the cheapest places to travel. Delhi and Puducherry show quite low values mainly because I stayed with friends and relatives. Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu aren’t as expensive as pointed out by the charts. I stayed in each of these places for only a day or less. Hence transport costs don’t tend to average out as they do in larger states where I have spent a lot of time.

Days Travelled by State

Days Travelled by State

Clearly Karnataka is the most travelled state. Himachal Pradesh is a tough state to travel. Getting around within the state takes time due to the mountainous terrains. Madhya Pradesh is huge with lots of places to see. I visited it early on in my travels. I took my time at each place and did things in leisure. It was only later I realized that one year is not long enough for entire India. I had to make compromises and speed up my itineraries. Andhra Pradesh perhaps does not deserve to be up there but it is right on the way towards states above it. I passed through it twice.

Histogram of Room Charges

Histogram of Room Charges

In India, you can stay for as low as ten rupees at dharamshalas. The range of options open to a backpacker, if you are not particular about luxuries, is simply vast. After I made this chart, I am surprised to learn that I have stayed for 40 nights with a room charge of Rs. 100 or below. Only once did I spent Rs. 500 for a room but even in this case it isn’t expensive because dinner and breakfast were included in the price. The most expensive place I stayed was in Gangtok, where I got a room for Rs. 400. I can think of many wonderful places where I stayed – comfortable, clean and value for money. Warangal, Dharamshala and Trichy are examples.

Total Expenses Share by Category

Total Expenses Share by Category

The final chart shows the share of expenses by category. Travelling by buses and trains is not only economical but also environmentally friendly.

To save time, I have on occasions taken flights to/from Bangalore, my home base, from/to North India. I have done four flights in all. This has probably been my only luxury. Transportation costs have taken up 35% of my expenses but without these flights they would have been only 24%.

As a final note, I would like to add that these expenses are lower than what I had budgeted for. They do not reflect my lifestyle. Rather, they are an indication of the bottom income bracket of the many millions who live in this country. I have travelled the way the common man travels.



  1. Very detailed analysis. Even I keep records of my daily expenses during travel. But have not put anything on my site because of sheer laziness. :-)

    Even before I read your comments, I had noted that transports in J&K is quite high. For me, accommodation takes the top spot simply because being a solo traveller I don’t find it safe to stay in dorms. :-)

    Have you read my 2 latest posts? They are on similar lines. Seems we both were thinking on same lines. :-)

    Will read other posts later.

  2. Nisha, I’m planning to visit Hyderabad this July. How much money should I budgeted for daily expenses. I’m from Malaysia :)

  3. Hi Nisha, I’m planning to go to Hyderabad for about a week or so in July. How much money should I budgeted for my daily expenses there. I’m from Malaysia :)

  4. Assuming you use public transport as much as possible and stay in a decent place, Rs. 800 a day is quiet alright.

  5. Hi Wani,
    It depends what kind of traveller you are but if you are a budget traveller then as Arvind suggested, you can keep Rs. 800-1000 per day.
    My personal experience about Hyderabad is, I could not find a decent hotel for less than 1000/-. It was 1250/- per day for me. Probably being a woman I wanted a safe place too. :)

  6. Hey. I noticed that you said you were staying with family etc in India. Are you Indian? I guess this would make a big difference when it comes to prices?

  7. I live in India but I took a year off from work to travel around. If you go for basic accommodation I don’t think they will charge a separate rate for foreigners. Hygiene is an issue at times but I carry my own sheets which I try to wash often. Choices are limited for women because such places are usually offer only shared bathrooms and toilets.

  8. I again agree with Arvind here. Generally there is no different charges for a foreigner. Also depends on the place… cities will cost you some more. Home stays are inexpensive & quite clean too. I also carry some thin towel/shawl etc in case it’s needed.
    I’ve used shared baths abroad while travelling alone but not in India…. I’ve phobia for hidden cameras. :)

  9. This is such an amazing metric! Thank you. New insight for me :)

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